Wounded Warriors at home on the tennis courts

April 9, 2014 09:37 AM
Sergeant Bustamante shares, "The power of this game has hit home for me, and that's exactly how I feel when on the courts -- at home."
Energized by their time at the camp, Sergeants Chris Bustamente and Jesse Colby returned to Fort Drum and started playing tennis every day.
After speaking at several sessions at the USTA Semi-Annual Meeting in New York, Sergeants Colby (left) and Bustamante (right) received VIP treatment at the US Open.

By Steve Kappes, special to USTA.com

Army Sergeants Chris Bustamante and Jesse Colby weren’t tennis players prior to participating in the San Diego District Tennis Association’s annual Wounded Warrior tennis camp in June 2013. Their experience at the camp, however, turned them into tennis fanatics, and has changed their lives in ways they never imagined.

Assigned to the Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Drum in upstate New York, they have been in the process of separating from the Army due to their medical conditions.

When they came to the tennis camp, they didn’t know what to expect. What they found, however, was a respite from the emotionally draining experience of starting their lives over, and a supportive environment that put them in touch with other service members who were going through the same challenges. Through the daily tennis and social activities, they started forming friendships and bonds that are replacing the ones they lost when they were separated from their combat units.

Energized by their time at the camp, they returned to Fort Drum and started playing tennis every day. It proved to be so therapeutic, they took the initiative to start their own Wounded Warrior tennis program to help others like them. 

Backed by their command, and with continued support from the district, their program is the 14th Wounded Warrior tennis program in the country that is modeled on the San Diego District’s program that began in 2009. In addition, they are working on bringing resources together to build new tennis courts at the Warrior Transition Unit.

As a result of their initiative and success, the USTA invited both sergeants to speak at the USTA’s national Semi-Annual Meeting in New York City in August 2013. They met USTA President Dave Haggerty and briefed key USTA staff members, board members and community tennis leaders from across the country. 

In their discussion, the two highlighted their experiences at the San Diego District’s camp and emphasized the importance and impact of tennis programs for wounded, ill and injured service members. Following their participation in the meetings, they received VIP treatment at the US Open.

"For once in a very long time, I feel that I am part of a bigger family, and it’s exactly what I needed in my life," said Sergeant Bustamante. "The power of this game has hit home for me, and that’s exactly how I feel when on the courts -- at home.”

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